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Analyzing Steelers' longshot route to the playoffs

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 4:54 p.m.

The Steelers must root for the New York Jets, if only for the next two weeks.

As difficult as it might be for them to cheer for a team coached by former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the Jets are a key part of the circuitous route to the playoffs that still remains for the Steelers.

After beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 30-20, on Sunday night, here's what the Steelers (6-8) need to happen:

• They must beat the Packers (7-6-1) on Sunday in Green Bay and the Cleveland Browns (4-10) at Heinz Field on Dec. 29. One loss leaves the Steelers out of the playoffs and saddled with their first losing record since they were 6-10 in 2003.

• The Ravens (7-6), who beat the Detroit Lions, 18-16, on Monday night, must lose their remaining two games. They play the New England Patriots (10-4) at home Sunday and the Bengals (9-5) on Dec. 29 in Cincinnati.

• The Dolphins (8-6), winners of four of five, must lose to the Bills (5-9) in Buffalo on Sunday and to the Jets (6-8) in Miami on Dec. 29. One Dolphins victory eliminates the Steelers because Pittsburgh cannot get to nine wins.

• The San Diego Chargers (7-7) must lose at home to either the Oakland Raiders (4-10) on Sunday or to the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) on Dec. 29.

• The Jets (6-8) also must win Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Browns.

If all of these scenarios play out, the Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Jets would be 8-8. Because ties are broken first inside the division, the Steelers eliminate the Ravens and the Jets eliminate the Dolphins based on better division records.

The Steelers then would eliminate the Jets based on head-to-head play and the Chargers based on a better conference record.

The 1989 Steelers faced a similar scenario going into the final weekend of the season, when they had to win at Tampa Bay and four other AFC teams all had to lose. All five games went the Steelers' way.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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